Bishops Synod on the Eucharist
Posted Saturday, Oct. 22, 2005 at 10:15 a.m. CDT

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Coverage of Bishops Synod on the Eucharist

Report #19:
'Massive endorsement' of priestly celibacy said
to be among the synod's important accomplishments

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By John L. Allen Jr.

One way or another, many observers believe that the Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist, which closes tomorrow with a Mass led by Pope Benedict XVI, will be remembered for its treatment of the priest shortage and its strong reaffirmation of clerical celibacy.

Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, Australia, said Saturday that the "massive endorsement" of priestly celibacy was among the synod's most important accomplishments.

Editor's Note: Another report was filed earlier this morning: Synod adopts tougher language on divorced, remarried .

"When you have the synod backing this discipline of the Latin church in such a nearly unanimous way, that's not unimportant," Pell said, following an Oct. 22 Vatican news conference.

Pell was referring to proposition 11 in the set of 50 propositions, or recommendations for action, presented by the pope. It defined married priests as "not a path to follow."

Church activists and reformers, however, were quick to label the result "very disappointing."

Some participants suggested that the consensus around the proposition on celibacy was not quite as absolute as the language makes it sound.

As NCR reported Oct. 17, at least four of the 12 small working groups organized by language actually recommended further study on the question of the viri probati.

In an Oct. 19 interview with NCR, Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta told NCR that it had been difficult for the synod to reach agreement on the viri probati.

"In the end, the universal nature and circumstances of the church did not lend themselves to the possibility of a resolution that would satisfy everyone," Gregory said. "The status quo held because we could not find common ground on the issue."

Gregory said it would be up to individual bishops or bishops' conferences to raise the issue again if they believe their specific situations warrant it.

Cardinal Angelo Scola of Venice, the relator, or synthesizer, of the synod's discussions, told NCR Oct. 22 that what he called the "great Latin tradition" of celibacy, of "likeness to Christ in virginity without compromise," offers witness to the "true sense of love" in a way that is also of help to married couples.

"It is about a complete gift of oneself, which is the deepest meaning of all love," Scola said.

Scola said he was not persuaded by arguments that ordaining married men would ease the priest shortage.

Read more NCR coverage of the synod on the Eucharist
  • Report #19: 'Massive endorsement' of priestly celibacy said to be among the synod's important accomplishments Posted Oct. 22, 11:05 a.m.
  • Report #18: Synod adopts tougher language on divorced, remarried Posted Oct. 22, 10:15 a.m.
  • Report #17: Final draft rebuffs Latin Mass; priest shortage, divorce squarely on church’s pastoral agenda Posted Oct. 20, 11:00 a.m.
  • Report #16: Gregory: Little change expected but synod took honest talk of pastoral realities Posted Oct. 19, 11:00 a.m.
  • Report #15: Draft propositions do not recommend changes in church discipline Posted Oct. 18, 11:00 a.m.
  • Report #14: Women’s voices heard through interventions of 12 synod auditors Posted Oct. 17, 12:15 p.m.
  • Report #13: Statement on married priests likely in final list of proposals Posted Oct. 17, 12:00 p.m.
  • Report #12: Outreach to Latin Mass Catholics proposed for final message Posted Oct. 15, 9:32 a.m.
  • Report #11: Problems acknowledged, synod bishops seek middle ground solutions. Posted Oct. 13, 1:15 p.m.
  • Report #10: Despite frank talk, few breakthroughs expected from synod. Posted Oct. 12, 11:00 a.m.
  • Report #9: Key synod themes seem clear, but consensus may be elusive. Posted Oct. 11, 11:00 a.m.
  • Report #8: Inculturation of liturgy sparks debate at this and past synods of bishops. Posted Oct. 10, 11:30 a.m.
  • Report #7: Bishops of Global South link Eucharist and justice, local cultures. Posted Oct. 8., 9:52 a.m.
  • Report #6: Discussion of celibacy and marriage clergy continue to hold center stage. Posted Oct. 7, 10:21 a.m.
  • Report #5: Environment, social justice emerge as eucharistic themes. Posted Oct. 6, 10:30 a.m.
  • Report #4: Divorced, remarried Catholics topics of frank synod discussions. Posted Oct. 5, 3:00 p.m
  • Report #3: Priest shortage continues to roil synod of bishops. Posted Oct. 4, 2:01 p.m.
  • Report #2: Movements appeal for changes to make Eucharist more accessible. Posted Oct. 4, 2:00 p.m.
  • Report #1: Priest shortage takes center stage on synod's first day. Posted Oct. 3, 3:04 p.m.
  • Read The Word From Rome columns
  • The final set of propositions; The case of viri probati; Some worry the synod lacked theological heft. Posted Oct. 21, 2:07 p.m.
  • Latin Mass a non-issue; Interview with Bishop Skylstad; Scola's 17 questions to guide the synod. Posted Oct. 14, 10:46 a.m.
  • The synod so far; How to report on a synod; A view from Moscow; Document on homosexuals in seminaries will not create an absolute ban; Catholic left and right square off. Posted Oct. 7, 11:55 a.m.
  • Preview of the synod on the Eucharist. Posted Sept. 30, 8:05 a.m.
  • "You can't apply a capitalistic logic to these matters, trying to calculate the just right number of priests here and there," he said. "The Lord gives us what he gives us. It's a different perspective."

    In the English-speaking world, Pell said, the synod's overwhelming support for Eucharistic adoration will also be important.

    In a departure from past practice, the final propositions of the synod have been made public. The Italian translation from the Latin original can be found on the Vatican Web site:

    On the issue of Catholic politicians who do not follow the moral teaching of the church, Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Quebec, Canada, said in response to a reporter's question that the synod felt any decision about denying them Communion should be left to local bishops.

    Ouellet was in charge of producing the synod's final message, which he explained was not put up for a vote, but "approved" in the form of applause from the assembly.

    The issue of Catholic politicians generated a rare moment of tension at a Vatican news conference, when an Italian reporter asked Archbishop Rino Fisichella, rector of the Lateran University and chaplain of the Italian parliament, if he would give Communion to two well-known Italian politicians: Romano Prodi, the center-left's candidate for prime minister in looming national elections, and Pier Ferdinando Casini, a member of the center-right governing coalition and speaker of the lower house of parliament. Prodi has recently signaled openness to a law regularizing "couples of fact" which is opposed by the Vatican, while Casini is divorced.

    Fisichella responded that he "did not see a reason" for refusing Communion to Prodi, whereas Casini "knows well the rules of the church" and does not present himself for Communion.

    Ouellet stressed what he sees as the link between the Eucharist and social justice, arguing that the sacrament should generate peace and solidarity, and that "Christians must respond at all levels," including in economics, politics and communications.

    Archbishop Roland Minnerath of Dijon, France, the special secretary for the synod, argued that the synod had in fact broken new ground, albeit not on contentious issues such as married priests, inter-communion with Protestants, or communion for the divorced and remarried.

    "The complex and renewed vision of the Eucharist is new, even if it's more at a subjective level," he said. Minnerath also pointed to the focus on the cosmological and anthropological dimensions of the Eucharist offered by Scola as opening "enormous new horizons."

    Both Minnerath and Ouellet said that the synod had been characterized by a spirit of open exchange, but that further modifications in its structures may be needed. Ouellet, for example, said that the contraction of the synod from four weeks to three meant there was not always adequate time for a full discussion of the final drafts of documents.

    Scola said he found the synod, bringing together 256 bishops elected by their national conferences from all parts of the earth, to be an exercise in "substantial democracy that is in many ways far more powerful than the formal democracy in civil societies."

    Not everyone, however, saw it that way.

    St. Joseph of Carondelet Sr. Christine Schenk, representing the reform organization FutureChurch, said that "disappointment is a mild way to put it" in describing her reaction.

    "Our goal for the last three or four years has been to get the priest shortage on the synod agenda, and it was, so that's something to celebrate," she said. "But in some ways, that makes it even worse" that the synod refrained from recommending a change on celibacy, she said.

    Schenk said her group's case for married priests is not based merely on addressing the priest shortage.

    "There are a number of good Catholic men who experience a call to the priesthood, but not to celibacy," she said. "They could better understand the struggles of families, of raising children. Celibates can never get it in quite the same way."

    Schenk said she was also disappointed that the issue of women in the church did not command much attention in the synod, "when women are holding so many parishes together in the absence of a priest."

    Synod sources told NCR Oct. 22 that all the propositions passed with solid majorities. The proposition that attracted the largest number of "no" votes was number 36, which suggests that in international celebrations the Mass be said in Latin, apart from the readings, the homily, and the Prayers of the Faithful, and that priests be trained from the seminary to use Latin prayers as well as Gregorian Chant. It also recommends that the faithful be educated to do so as well. Even that proposition, however, passed with a comfortable majority.

    John L. Allen Jr. is NCR’s Rome correspondent. His e-mail address is will post daily reports from the Bishops Synod on the Eucharist through Oct. 22. Bookmark this page or check back with to read more coverage of this international Catholic event.

    October 22, 2005, National Catholic Reporter

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